Rock Ministries: Urban Missions

Rock Ministries: Urban Missions
Rock Ministries: Urban Missions

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Rock Ministries of Philadelphia, PA, hosts an urban missions conference to equip believers

Story by Debra Smith
Photos by Tom Price

People sat huddled on the sidewalk in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, PA, injecting drugs; some rocked back and forth as the five believers from Louisiana approached the entrance to Rock Ministries. “It’s an extreme scene,” said Pastor Paul Hammontree of CC Baton Rouge, LA. “We walked through people shooting up and doing deals right there; many could only be described as ‘zombied out.’ I’ve done drugs, and if not for the Lord, I’d still be there. All these people need is Jesus, and their lives could be completely changed.” Hearing months before that Rock Ministries was hosting an urban missions conference, Paul had brought four others on the 28-hour drive to Philadelphia. Certain that the Lord had healed him from a severe form of cancer so he could spread the Gospel in Baton Rouge’s roughest areas, Paul wanted ideas and guidance. “Recently I felt convicted that our church is to serve the hopeless, helpless, and those on drugs—to give them a future and hope with Christ,” Paul explained. “The Lord used the conference powerfully to give us vision. Being on-site absorbing the urban vibe made the experience.”

Paul Hammontree prays for man

Pastor Paul Hammontree of CC Baton Rouge, LA, (center) prays with local resident John Fortune (far left) during a street outreach for the Urban Missions Conference held at Calvary Chapel Kensington, PA, at Rock Ministries.

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

As they arrived, the five had circled the block several times looking for a safe-looking place to park. Eventually settling in behind an expensive car, “We figured someone would go after it before our van,” chuckled Paul. “As we stepped out, I immediately went into protective mode, watching the two ladies among us. I’ve been to slums in the developing world that felt safer.” As they entered Rock Ministries, “The difference was dramatic,” continued Paul. “I can’t smell anymore because of the cancer treatments, but others said the smell on the streets was horrific. People were yelling and arguing; others were lying down, passed out. Walking into the building, you went from darkness to light and felt the presence of God’s love. You first see the boxing ring with punching bags everywhere; then you enter the second room, the sanctuary.”

Pastor Buddy comforts Chris in Christ

Pastor Buddy Osborn (right) shares with Chris Keashon in Kensington, PA, as part of the Urban Missions Conference. Chris, from LaSalle College, prayed to receive Christ.

Buddy Osborn founded Rock Ministries, or “The Rock,” in 2003. Armed with a vision to keep teens from repeating his own prison experiences, Buddy brought free boxing classes and Bible studies to Kensington, his childhood neighborhood within Philadelphia’s heart. Situated in one of the nation’s poorest congressional districts, Kensington is an East Coast hub of opioid use. Buddy was originally commuting almost an hour and attending his and his wife’s home church of CC Philadelphia; he became Pastor Buddy when CC Kensington grew organically from Rock Ministries in 2009. Today the Osborns are among about 10 families and singles residing in Kensington as urban missionaries. Through this mix of co-laborers attracted from outside and locals grown in Christ through the ministry, The Rock has added offerings in art, music, mentoring, jiu jitsu, and homework help for ages 6 and up. More than 10,000 youth have been impacted through one or more Rock events or classes, which typically end with a Bible study or Gospel presentation.

Buddy and Guzik walk together

Buddy and Pastor David Guzik of CC Santa Barbara, CA, (center) speak with addicts who live on Kensington’s inner city streets. Most were heavily sedated at that time.

A Witness for Deliverance

For the Louisiana group, “Just go do something” was the biggest conference takeaway. “They kept saying that, and it resonated with us,” Paul commented. “You have to start somewhere. It’s encouraging to realize there’s not a human plan or program, but it’s God’s Spirit who makes real ministry happen.” CC Baton Rouge owns several inflatable playhouses for use at their Halloween-alternative event. “We were inspired to realize that instead of using them once a year, we could set them up anytime, anywhere to help build relationships,” Paul remarked.

The conference highlight for Paul was doing outreach in the surrounding blocks. He continued, “We got to do an outreach with them, while others walked around the neighborhood inviting folks and offering to pray with people.” Paul prayed for John, a resident whom he said appeared high but seemed coherent enough to listen and communicate accurately. “He told me he had witnessed his sister’s murder right in front of him, and he continues drug use trying to escape the pain.”

The Rock missionaries, Buddy shared, carry with them a powerful nasal spray that blocks the brain’s opioid receptors. During the last four months, he stated, “The Rock servants have been responsible for over 80 drug reversals,” meaning uses of the medicine on someone they discovered passed out from an opioid overdose. “Eighty people would have probably died if we hadn’t revived them with Narcan,” Buddy clarified.

"Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter." Proverbs 24:11

Buddy boxing with Troy

Buddy (left) demonstrates boxing techniques that relate to the Christian life with Troy Fink.

Olympic Dreams to Prison Bars

Buddy grew up with a single mother and eight siblings in Kensington. He boxed from age 13 onward, becoming Number One in Pennsylvania by age 16. Slated to participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, he had to be satisfied with representing the U.S. in other international boxing events when, after the Soviet Union’s 1979 Afghanistan invasion, the States boycotted the Games. Becoming a roofer, Buddy quickly advanced in the leadership of his roofers’ union. “I loved organizing people,” he remarked. “And I believe the working man deserves a fair wage and safe conditions. But some of our means of achieving those goals were illegal.” Arrested in his 20s for plotting physical harm of a financial enemy, Buddy was indicted on racketeering charges and contemplated life in prison. He served five years; had it been a few years later, Buddy said, he would still be imprisoned. “The sentencing guidelines became stricter in the ’90s,” he explained. “Today judges no longer have the same leniency.”

Outreach Boxing

Tatiana Gomez spars with Frankie Eleby, the youth boxing coach. Boxing is one of many programs offered by Rock Ministries to teens in Kensington. Conference attendees participated in an outreach there.

Released in 1991, Buddy received a letter from an acquaintance who wrote, “Jesus has you in the palm of His hand.” The two corresponded about Christ for several years, until in 1995 Buddy repented and committed to following Jesus. CC Philadelphia became his church and Joe Focht his pastor. “One day when I was a new believer, Pastor Joe took some time just to listen to me,” Buddy recalled. “At one point he said, ‘Maybe someday you’ll be back in Kensington preaching the Gospel.’ I thought, That’ll never happen, but it’s nice of him to think so.” Within the year, Joe recommended that Buddy join a mission trip into Siberia’s juvenile prisons. Returning inspired, Buddy went into a Philadelphia juvenile prison, the Philadelphia House of Corrections, to lead a Bible study for boys. One day a young man charged with murder walked in. Horrified, Buddy recognized the boy. He’d coached him in boxing on the outside—but he hadn’t shared Christ with him. He knew two things going forward: The Gospel would be priority, and the strategy would be preventing at-risk teens from entering prison. “I asked myself, How can I be more effective on the street block, so they don’t end up on the prison block?”

Panel Q&A

David Guzik (far left) leads a question and answer session at the conference. Pastors were discussing how to effectively reach the inner-city for Jesus Christ.

Buddy married Lucille in 1997, and in 2003 he started commuting from their suburban home into Kensington, offering free boxing lessons with mandatory 20-minute Bible studies. One of his earliest students was Juan “Johnny” Rivera IV, who was raised in Philadelphia by his grandparents. “I met my dad when I was 12 and my mom when I was 13,” stated Johnny. “When I was a teen, my grandparents got really sick. My mom was poor and had suffered through a lot. So, at the time she couldn’t really be there for my brother and me, though she came back for us and has been in our lives ever since. But at the time we got kind of hardened. I was basically homeless, running the streets, selling drugs, using guns and knives, engaging in fights. By 15 or 16 I had my own drug corners and considered myself an atheist. But this one gym had free boxing lessons if you sat in Bible study afterward. I used to laugh at Buddy for his faith, but I would come to learn boxing. The discipline was great, Buddy’s style was great, and in time the Word of God did its work. It crept up on me slowly. Buddy never rushed or pressured me, but I became a born-again Christian after a year and a half. Then when I was 18, Buddy got the Rock Ministries gym.”

CRD girls worship God

Worship played a big part of the Urban Missions Conference. Several hundred men and women attended the three-day event.

To the Next Generation

Now in his 30s, Johnny shared, “I have a beautiful wife and three children.” He is a business representative for an operating engineers’ union and a coach at The Rock.

“Being Jesus freaks, we don’t allow cursing or violence,” Johnny said. “If you curse, you do pushups. Sometimes the kids are rough and strong minded, and we don’t want them to end up as statistics. So, we have discipline. Another common thing is kids coming in with a chip on their shoulders. But there’s something about being punched in the nose that humbles you. God’s using boxing to save these kids’ lives.” "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

Shavon and Matt Missionaries

Matt and Shavon Coyle share their testimony of being called as missionaries to the inner city.

“What God has done for me and my family is remarkable,” Johnny reflected. “The kids are learning the Bible at home and at their Christian school.” The Riveras’ oldest, Juan “Little Johnny” Rivera V, is 12 and is a seven-time national boxing champion. Little Johnny began to box when he was six. The youth himself recalled: “I was playing baseball and football, but I wanted to box. My dad said it’s too dangerous when you’re little; you need to get tough first. But I really wanted to, so he let me try. I got beat up the first time I sparred, and he said, ‘See how boxing is?’ But I said, ‘I love it.’ Then he let me keep going.” Upon entering the ring during a tournament, Little Johnny said, “I always give it up to God. I go to the corner and get on one knee to bow my head and pray.” Little Johnny continued, “I know Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I started understanding that when I was around eight or nine. I know I’m saved.”

Lizzie Wardle discussing with chaplains

Lizzie Wardle (right) and a panel of Rock chaplains discuss ministry to street addicts.

Rewarding Spiritual Fruit

The ministry has a tiered structure through which youngsters earn privileges such as athletic travel, and the system rewards spiritual fruit more than athletic ability. “We’re not sin police, but if you’re living with a girl or coming in with your pants hanging down, getting on the core team is not happening,” Buddy explained. “You must exhibit Christlikeness and responsibility.” Many youth don’t get these travel opportunities, he said, “but God blesses us so we can make it happen sometimes.” "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." Galatians 6:7

“As Christians, our DNA should be grace and truth,” added Buddy. “If you want to be an urban missionary, bring your grace game; truth without grace never works. But neither does the reverse. You need both.”

Ray Dash Speaks

Pastor Ray Dash of The Rock Christian Fellowship of Newark, NJ, shares strategies to begin an urban outreach.

Craig Cerrito, Buddy’s assistant pastor, remarked, “The devastation, the needs, and the conditions are difficult to understand unless you live here. The stress and hopelessness are profound. The only answer is Jesus Christ. Social programs alone don’t work, but they’re great as entry points for the Gospel. Yet, painfully, we’ve had to realize that there are people here who won’t receive the Gospel—individuals we know and love. Our job is sowing seed, not saving people. That is a tremendous emotional obstacle. You come to the mission field on fire, thinking, Everyone’s going to get saved because God sent me here. It doesn’t work that way, though there is fruit. Instead of looking at your broken dreams of what you wanted God to do, you have to look at what God actually did and recognize how amazing it was.”

Spreading Justice and Mercy

The Rock has emphasized for years God’s mercy, grace, and truth, and today they’re adding a new focus: justice—specifically regarding housing prices. “It’s criminal what it costs some people to rent homes not even suitable to live in,” Buddy said. “We’re looking at enabling lease-to-buy arrangements. We would love to see people without credit able to get someplace decent and not have to leave.”

Ana Jacobs ministers

Rock Ministries Chaplain Ana Jacobs visits one of Kensington’s homeless encampments under the overpass, sharing Jesus’ love and compassion.

Urban Missions are Valid

Buddy invited Pastor David Guzik of CC Santa Barbara, CA, to be a guest Bible teacher at the conference. David noted, “Romans 6:23a says the wages of sin is death, and it’s remarkable [in Kensington] to see the despair brought on by drug use and social dysfunction. Yet where there’s such darkness and sin, the light of God’s people shines even brighter. Jesus said in John 17:18, ‘As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.’ As the church, we need to be zealous to guard the importance of sending cross-cultural missionaries, especially toward unreached people groups. But we also shouldn’t reach the world and neglect our own communities. Local urban environments are a legitimate use of our missionaries, dollars, and prayers. It was exciting to see so many people come to hear what God’s done in Kensington and consider being part of such work elsewhere.”


All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.